Story Time - Bishop Paul recounts the Christmas Story

LENT TALK 3 – Blessing Others

So we come to the third and final talk on exploring blessing. If you want to follow up on the previous two they are here: Lent 1, Lent 2.

In the first talk we were thinking about the way God blesses us; in the second we were thinking about it means for us to bless God. And in this third talk we are thinking about blessing others.

Our diocesan vision statement is ‘Blessing our communities in Jesus name for the transformation of us all’. We are about being a people of blessing, seeking to bless the communities in which we are set, in which we are called to serve. And seeking to bless others around us. So how do we go about it? The difficulty for me in this talk is that again there are lots of bible passages and part of me would love just to do an exposition of the Numbers 6 passage or the Romans 12 passage but we’re going to try and dart around so I may trip up and start going into exegesis too much if I’m not careful.

Blessing by Prayer

First of all we bless by prayer. Now I very deliberately begin with blessing by prayer because we tend to get into activist mode when we start thinking about how we bless other people. And we tend to forget that praying with and for others is the most significant thing that we can do for other people. It’s very easy isn’t it when we are in our prayers whether we are alone or in church to find ourselves thinking ‘does this really do anything? What’s this all about? Am I just speaking up into thin air and is it going no higher than the ceiling?’ No, prayer, is the most significant thing we can do for other people. Because we can pray for people wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. They can be thousands of miles away and somehow in the mystery of how God works in and through us as his people prayer does effect things. One of my particular close connections is with the nation of Burundi and the nation of Burundi, over the last few months, has been going through even more traumatic times than normal. One of the things that the leaders of the church there keep saying to me in emails is ‘we know we are being prayed for, we feel it’. I want to get into terribly activist mode and think what can we do about this and what can we do about that anoff hat they keep saying to me is ‘the main thing you can do is pray for us. Please don’t stop.’ So we bless people by praying for them.

Now we read Numbers 6; 22-27, known as the Aaronic blessing because of the blessing that Aaron and the subsequent high priests were commissioned to pray for the people. And the purpose we read in verse 27so they shall put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them’. By praying God’s blessing on others we are seeking to put God’s name onto the other person or the other group of people. In prayer we seek that God’s name will rule and reign over those people; that God’s name will be the mark of those people. We pray for blessing that God’s name will be on others. In this prayer, ‘the Lord bless you and keep you’ so the Lord blesses. The Lord pour out his love and goodness upon you and keep you, the Lord guard you, protect you, keep you safe. ‘The Lord make his face to shine upon you’. In the first talk we talked about one of the images of blessing that is the idea of God shining his face on us. It comes up in Psalms (31: 16; 67:1; 4:6; 80:3,7 and 19; 119:35,135). And there are other places as well. It’s a popular phrase used by the writers, particularly by the Psalmist; Gods face is shining on us. Now we all know don’t we that if we are feeling a bit down and somebody passes us in the street and smiles at us, they shine their face at us, it cheers us up. Now that is a very small example of it but it’s that kind of image. That God’s looking in goodness and joy and love upon us and towards us. That’s what he means that he shines his face upon us. Because the reverse is also found in scripture. The idea of God hiding his face from us comes equally often in the psalms (13.1; 27.9; 44.24; 69.17). And also comes in Deuteronomy (31.17), it comes in Job (13.24) and also in the prophets, Isaiah (54.8; 57.17), Jeremiah (33.5) and Ezekiel (7.22). If God is turning his face away from us then we seek to feel and experience and know his blessing. So we pray that God will be shining his face upon us. We bless by praying this prayer.

Now, an obvious question then is that this was very clearly in this passage restricted to Aaron and his sons, that is the high priest. So now can you pray it? Well yes you can, because we live this side of the great high priest, Jesus himself, making us a royal priesthood. So there is no reason why we can’t use these words. They are no longer restricted as they were in the Old Testament to a particular role and function of high priest and you can pray these words for people and over people. Those who are ordained as priests in the church are given a specific authority to declare God’s blessing and they should exercise it widely and well. But there is also a place for all of us to pray for God’s blessing on others.

When I was in Walthamstow in east London, I knew a delightful lady called Marion who I came across first because her husband died. Although, as she said to me ‘well he wasn’t really my husband because we never got married’. They had lived together for a long long time. So I took the funeral, as you do in these circumstances, and she then turned up at church, unannounced. She hadn’t been in church for donkeys years, she told me, and she took me to one side after her first return to church and said, ‘Paul you disappoint me’. ‘Oh, why do I disappoint you Marion?’ She said ‘because you only gave me half a blessing.’ I said, ‘What do you mean I only gave you half a blessing? I did “the peace of God which passes all our understanding … And the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. ’. She said, ‘yes, where was the Lord bless you and keep you?’ She said, ‘ a full blessing is when you do the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you and then you do the blessing of the Son, the Father and Holy Spirit.’ She felt short-changed unless we used these words as well. It was quite interesting coming from someone who hadn’t been in church for years. So we can use this kind of prayer for family members, for friends, for our next door neighbours, and so on. There are lots of other examples of praying God’s blessing. Paul’s letters are full of them. We haven’t got time to read them all. At the end of 1 Corinthians (16.23f), at the end of 2 Corinthians (13.14) which is what we call the grace, the prayer in Ephesians 1 & 3.20f. But we will look momentarily at the Hebrews 13:20,

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

The writer to the Hebrews praying God’s peace and blessing on those who are reading the letter also prays that they will be equipped with everything good, so that they can do God’s will. It’s a great prayer of blessing and sometimes we use it in church services. As we do Jude 24.

There are other examples of praying for one another, Colossians 1.9-14, 1Thessalonians 3.11-13; but the one I want to pick up on for a moment is Philippians 1.2-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is simply a reminder when you are reading the letters, at the beginning of many of the letters, there’s something like ‘Grace to you and peace, or just peace to you, and also at the very end of some of Paul’s letters we get the similar phrasing. This is not just an ‘I’m wishing you well’ it is a formalised greeting but it is Paul praying for them. This is his prayer for the people to whom he writes. So they know God’s grace, so they will know Gods peace. Then he goes on,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

So he regularly prayed for them. He wasn’t able to see them in Philippi very often but he prayed for them constantly.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

So this is prayer for the Philippians. He’s not just praying simply, ‘I pray that all will go well with them’ but that ‘your love may abound more and more’ So he wants the Christians of Philippi lives to be more and more exemplifying God’s love amongst each other. And that that love is not wishy washy love, but is filled with knowledge and discernment. So its love that discerns how best to treat one another. So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. His vision in his praying is rather more than today or tomorrow, its more we are heading for glory and eternity with Jesus Christ and so my prayer is all geared towards being ready for that day. ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.’ What Paul always had in mind ultimately in his praying for other people was that God would be glorified through them. So that’s quite some praying. When did we last pray that for our next door neighbour? I ask myself that. When did I last pray that? I don’t know, would be the honest answer. I do pray for my next door neighbour but I’m not sure I pray with that kind of breadth of vision and longitude in terms of praying for them. And we can use these prayers and I would like to suggest that if we are going to be a people committed to blessing others by praying for them using the prayers of scripture itself is not a bad place to be rooted.

Then, of course, Jesus taught that we should pray for our enemies. That’s in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5.43f; Lk 6.28). How do we respond to those who oppose us, to those who seek to stop the Kingdom of God? How do we respond to those who don’t like us following Christ? We pray for them; that’s what Jesus tells us to do. This is not easy; if you are a Christian in Iraq or Syria facing potential or actual persecution praying for your enemy is not simple. But it is what Jesus calls us to do. If at school or work someone is teased or bullied for following Christ what is the response? Well part of it is to pray for those who perpetrate against us. We pray God’s mercy and blessing on them.

Blessing by Presence

We bless by prayer then we bless by presence. When the Jews were taken into exile into Babylon, Jeremiah wrote them a letter. Jeremiah 29 is the letter that he wrote to those in exile; Jeremiah 29.4-7

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

So Jeremiah tells the Jews in exile that they are to pray for Babylon and to pray for Babylon’s welfare. But also they are to be present there and in everything that they do seek the welfare of the city. This ran completely counter to what most of the people were telling the Jews in exile at the time. They were saying the exile is going to be over very fast and you’ll be back in Israel very quickly and part of what Jeremiah is saying is ‘No, that’s a false hope. You are going to be in exile for quite a number of years so seek the welfare of the city’.

If we then come to Jesus and his disciples, and we have the accounts of Jesus sending out both the 12 in Matthew 10.5-15 and the 72 in Luke 10.1-12 I read from Matthew 10.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the labourer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.

The disciples are given clear instructions about what they are sent to do; and they are sent to be in these places they go to and whilst there to seek to bring God’s peace and wellbeing to them. A bit like the exiles. Although this is a travelling journey so they won’t be there for that long. Please notice, that one of the ways in which the disciples would actually be present was they would receive from the people from whom they’d gone not just give to the people where they’d gone. One of the ways in which the disciples could bless by their presence was to allow others to share hospitality and grace and goodness towards them. It was not all one way traffic. Just as it would have been the case for the Jews in Babylon that they would be entering into trade with those amongst whom they were. So it was two way traffic between the peoples. But they were to bless by being present. By living in the communities; by seeking the wellbeing of the community. So that is one of the ways I think that we are called to bless the communities in which we are set. We are simply here as residents and we should seek the welfare and wellbeing of the communities in which we are set. As places of commerce, as places of family life, as places of trade, as places of education. God calls us to be present as his people living out his kind of life in and amongst the people with whom we are set. And we are to seek the wellbeing of the community in every way that we possibly can. Our presence needs to be with that in view. But it’s not all one way. It’s not that the church is going to do all the good to other people; we will also be the recipients of hospitality and kindness and generosity from others who may not line themselves fully with us but clearly those who welcomed the disciples on their journey lined up closely enough to say we want to welcome you we want to help you. So bless by presence through seeking the welfare of the communities in which we are set and in that way bringing God’s peace.

Peacemaking

We looked last week at the Sermon on the Mount and one of the things there is ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. Also notice that when Jesus healed individuals, on some occasions his parting words to them were ‘go in peace, you faith has saved you’. Jesus was about bringing God’s peace into individual’s lives as well as into the life of the community. So we are about blessing with God’s peace both the communities in which we are set and individuals whom we meet. This is what lies behind the thinking of the organisation, The Eden Network, who run out of Manchester and have established teams in different places around the country. There are 4 of them in the North East of England at the moment and the whole thinking is Christian people move into a community in which there’s either no Christian presence or a very small Christian presence and they move in to become permanent members of the community and to seek to bless it by doing good in it. It is an example of a very intentional move to be a praying presence in a community seeking the total wellbeing, the peace, of that community. And in many places it is having a seriously good impact on the communities in which they are set. They focus particularly on large estates in cities but the idea is to bless by being present.

This is one of the reasons why we still insist that Anglican clergy live in the parish. We actually believe that by their presence there is something about God’s presence. Being with the people whom we serve. We are the only profession left that does it. Though many of you are old enough to remember when the GP lived in the community; when the policeman lived in the community. Lots of others lived in the community but now it is only church ministers for whom it is the standard practice. It is an important point about our commitment to presence in the community. Although It doesn’t mean you have to live right next door to the church building.

Bless by Proclaiming

Then we bless by proclaiming. Think of the story of Jonah. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach and Jonah decides to run away and finds himself in a storm, gets thrown over the side of the boat, gets swallowed up by a great big fish, gets spewed up on the land and then goes to Nineveh to do what he was originally told to do, which was preach and warn them that if they didn’t listen to God that God’s judgement would come upon them. And lo and behold in the story of Jonah, the king and the people of Nineveh listen; they respond and they repent and God says I’m not going to send judgment on them. Jonah brave man that he was says ‘I told you God this is exactly what I thought would happen’. And he gets angry with God for being generous and kind and merciful. ‘The whole reason I didn’t want to come is that I knew you’d be merciful because that’s the kind of God you are.’ But Jonah was blessing the people of Nineveh by going and proclaiming God’s word to them. That’s also what happens in Matthew 10 and the equivalent with the 72 in Luke 10, they are told to go and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a story to be told, there is a message to be declared and they will bless the communities by doing that proclamation. It’s why Peter on the day of Pentecost stands up and declares the good news of Jesus Christ to all who have gathered because its blessing them by proclaiming the good news.   Peter in his letter (1Pet 3.15) uses something slightly different which is about always being able to give an account of the faith, of the hope that we have in Christ. Now I’m not sure that we always quite get hold of this. I’m not sure that we always recognise that proclaiming the good news is one of the ways in which we bless other people. Speaking the good news, telling it, is to bless. Now of course we need to do it thoughtfully and lovingly and carefully and all those kind of words that we want to hem around it, but to not share the good news of the kingdom of God in word with other people is to fail to offer them God’s blessing. That is quite a challenge I think to us as churches. So if we do not make the good news of Jesus Christ known we are withholding God’s blessing on people. Who will be answerable for that failure? Not the people who haven’t heard. So proclamation, evangelism, is a means of blessing other people. That I think is the theme not just in the New Testament but in books like Jonah as well.

Bless by doing good

Then we get onto the kind of stuff you may well have thought I would start with but deliberately we have had 3 P’s at the beginning. We bless by prayer. We bless by being present, seeking the peace, the wellbeing and welfare of the communities. We bless by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to others. But then of course we bless by doing good. As they went the disciples were told that they were to heal and to cast out demons and so on. Jesus’ own ministry was a ministry of releasing people from oppression, bringing healing, feeding and so on. If we take Psalm 15

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

   and speaks truth in his heart;

   who does not slander with his tongue

   and does no evil to his neighbour,

   nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

in whose eyes a vile person is despised,

   but who honours those who fear the Lord;

who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

who does not put out his money at interest

   and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

There’s one description of holy living from the Old Testament. Isaiah 58 is all about justice. But let us go into the New Testament and Romans 12.14-21

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Keep on doing good to others and bless them by doing good to them and for them. Befriend people, visit people, welcome people. Welcome refugees as and when they arrive into our part of the country. Do good. Interestingly several of the key verses Galatians (6.9f), 1 Timothy (6.18f), 1 Peter (3.13f) do not define doing good just talk about doing good. Just think about what it is to do good to somebody else and then go and do it. Because,of course, doing good to others will look different from one person to the next and from one situation to the next. If someone is already particularly wealthy and well-endowed with money then you are not going to do them a great deal of good by giving them another fiver. But they might be very lonely so you would do good by befriending them and spending time with them. On the other hand there might be someone who is desperately short of money and in need of practical help and support so to do good might be to give them some money. But do good in whatever ways we think we can do good to somebody else. Let me give you a couple of examples. This was again when I was in east London and I was blown away when I heard the story and this all happened behind the scenes and I only heard the story after it was over. A member of the congregation lost their job and then his wife lost her part time job and they just did not know how they were going to carry on paying their mortgage. Two close friends knew what was going on, they were also church members, in this instance, and I learnt that for 6 months those 2 other families had paid the mortgage for the first family. By which time they got new jobs and so on. That’s doing good. That’s seriously doing good because it saved a family from really difficult situations. But most of the time it’s the small things. It’s the simple things. It’s the smiling at people. It’s the saying good morning. It’s the going round and knocking on the door and saying are you alright. It’s the sending a text. Any way that we can find to do good.

Bless by giving

There is a specific in the scriptures about giving. Now I did a piece about sacrificial gmothering the second talk so I’m not going to bang on about it again. Proverbs 11.24-31

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;

   another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,

   and one who waters will himself be watered.

The people curse him who holds back grain,

   but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.

Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,

   but evil comes to him who searches for it.

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,

   but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.

Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind,

   and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,

   and whoever captures souls is wise.

If the righteous is repaid on earth,

   how much more the wicked and the sinner! 

We can bless others by our giving. I worked for Scripture Union for several years and one of the interesting things on joining the staff of Scripture Union at the time was that instead of being supplied with a house as a curate, we had to supply our own house. I was working in London and London prices were bad enough in the late 1980’s, let alone what they are now. So we were given help by Scripture Union to get a house and we were given help by our parents, as parents are prone to do. Indeed now it seems to be impossible without help from parents. But I also took a pay cut. That might seem hard to believe that from a curates pay I took a pay cut to join Scripture Union staff. So we were tight. We were very tight in terms of we had 2 children, then a third then a fourth. And so we did experience being on the receiving end of extraordinary generous giving. We have had the experience of not knowing how we were going to pay our next bill and having a brown envelope being stuffed through the letter box we never knew who from but full of ten pound notes which paid the next bill. So we have been on the receiving end of being blessed by peoples generous giving. We do bless by giving. Of course we do it thoughtfully and prayerfully. I am one who doesn’t just give money to people in the streets and when I was a vicar we never gave cash. We had a stock of food and we made hundreds of cups of tea and sandwiches. The children as they got older learnt how to handle that as well. Because of where we were in East London we would have people say ‘ I’ve got a job interview and I need a tube fare’, so I always went to the station to buy the ticket. Do you know how many tickets I bought in 10 years? Just one. That’s about not being stupid in how we give, but we bless by giving.

Blessing by Welcoming Strangers

Then we bless by welcoming strangers. It a theme for Israel who were to be a people who welcomed the alien stranger in their midst (Exodus 22.21; 23.9) Jesus welcoming the Samaritans and Gentiles John 4). We are to be the people who welcome strangers (Hebrews 13.2). And that’s not just about people who come through the door of the church and making them feel welcome. It’s about what we do for the person who’s moved in down the road, who’s new to the community and doesn’t really know anyone. Are we welcoming? Are we the people who go round and say ‘Welcome to this community. We’re glad that you’re here. How can we help you? Can we help you with knowing where the doctors are, where the dentist is, can we help you with knowing which the best shops are’ and so on.

When I was Bishop of Southampton, on the edge of Southampton there was a huge new estate going up and it was one of those occasions where I was hugely proud of the vicar and his congregation because they went along to the people who were responsible for selling all of the new properties and they said ‘we will put welcome packs of information together. Please can you tell us when people are moving in and we will take that pack round. The pack will contain information about shops, doctors, schools and so on. The one thing you have to agree is that we will also put a piece of information in about the local churches and services and what we offer, for example parents and toddlers.’ The company said ‘No one has ever made that offer before. Yes please will you do it.’ So everyone who moved into that new estate got a welcome from the church with a pack of information which was helpful for them and if possible someone rang on the doorbell and gave it to them face to face. They were offering welcome to the stranger. We need to do that with refugees as they arrive and so on.

Blessing by seeking justice

Then we bless by pursuing justice. I read Psalm 15 earlier, mentioned Isaiah 58 earlier, and we could look at Amos 5.14-24 but let me read Micah 6.8

He has told you, O man, what is good;

   and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]

   and to walk humbly with your God?

We bless people by seeking and pursuing justice in our world, whether that be at a local level or a national or an international level. The reason why we are called to be engaged in issues of justice around housing and homelessness, around trade justice, around racial justice, and so on is that we are able to bless people by being committed to working alongside others for justice. This should drive us constantly. So we are operating at a very local level, a very personalised level by blessing by welcoming new people by doing good to them, by giving and so on. With those who are immediately around us. We bless communities by being present and being engaged with them and seeking the welfare of the communities at a local level and at a bigger level, but we also have to be passionate about what actually drives nations and the relationships between nations forward in seeking justice for all. And as we pursue justice so we will be blessing people in the process.

Blessing

So I’m going to come to a close with these thoughts at the end of the 3 talks.

We bless God by blessing others. We bless others because we want to bless others but in the very process of doing so we are blessing God. We are honouring his name, we are lifting his name up, and we are pointing people to the God of blessing. We will always seek God’s blessing on others, whoever they are and however they may treat us. One of the things that becomes clear from Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount and that Paul is largely repeating in Romans 12, is that blessing other people is not always received in the way that we would like it to be received. Jesus warned the disciples that when they went out not everyone would welcome them. Paul is warning that we will not always be welcomed as we seek to bless and as Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and as he demonstrated the kingdom he found he got more and more opposed and then ended up at the cross. So we have to recognise that blessing others will not always be respected, understood or received in the way that we would like it to be. We may find people actually throwing it back in our face. We may even find opposition. We’ll certainly be accused of manipulation or trying to win people through doing our good. No, we do good because we do good. And if people catch a vision of God and his love through it, hallelujah. But if they don’t we are not going to stop doing good. And we pray God’s blessing on and over people. That can be hard sometimes. It can be very hard. Praying for those who persecute you, praying for those who revile you, bless them. This business of blessing is not always simple and straight forward, it can be very costly. But it is the way of God. God constantly pouring his blessing out in creation, in the covenants that he’s made and in Christ blessing us with every blessing in the heavenly places. God is always in this business of blessing. And so he expects us as his people to be also in this business of his blessing and the means by which his blessing is spread into the world. As we seek to do it. And pray for it because sometimes prayer is the only thing we can do. Certainly when we think of situations on the other side of the world that’s probably all we can do. But it’s not all we can do because by that phrase it sounds like it’s not doing very much when actually in God’s economy, praying is enormously powerful and meaningful. And so sometimes it is all that someone is left with doing.

I will finish with a story of my greatest mentor whose name was Dai Lewis, he worked for Scripture Union for many years and died last year. He took me under his wing when I was 18 and nurtured me in children’s work in particular and for 30 years we worked together doing SU Longbarn Camps. He was one of the people I could go and talk to about anything. And I miss him deeply. But years before I knew him when he was a young evangelist he used to do a mission in southern Ireland and it was hugely supported by one particular local person in this part of southern Ireland and she had a stroke, a very severe stroke which left her bedridden and the next summer when Di was over to do his evangelistic mission she refused to let him go and see her. The message came down, I don’t want you to come and see me because I don’t want you to see me in the state that I’m in. she did that for 2 years. On the third year he said I am going to go and see her whatever she says. He prepared very fully and very thoughtfully about how he was going to go and see her, what he was going to say , all the carefully thought out words he would say. He went and the carer let him in and took him to the room in which this lady was confined. All his words fell away because there was this frail lady lying on her side in the bed and on the wall that she was facing were hundreds of photographs. In the middle was a photograph of him and his wife. And he said he knew as soon as he Iooked that what this person who could not move anywhere, could not get out to do any good, who only slept for 2-3 hours a day because of the pain she was in, she spent her entire life praying around that wall. And because that week he was present leading the mission, his picture was bang in the middle. So what could he say when someone had been praying God’s blessing over him more than he could ever imagine. That was the day that he realised that prayer is the most powerful means of blessing that we have. And I finish with that story.

Bishop Paul Bulter, Lent 2016

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